An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Friendship Gone Sour

Dear Greyce, We are handsome cats, Taro (age 3) and Yoshi (age 4), and have been together splendidly for three years.

Yoshi is a cuddler who is initially fearful of human visitors but soon becomes friends as long as children are not involved. He prefurrs to be up high on his favourite cat tree.

I have more leadership skills. I’m not a lap cat – though I love to be petted. I’m a man of action; I initiate our mutual play (though he is the first to stop). I prefurr to be closer to the ground and underneath things; height is not my thing. For example, I like to nap underneath the table or inside cardboard boxes.

Yoshi is much more playful when I am not around. For example, I hide from the dreaded vacuum cleaner and he doesn’t. Instead he takes the opportunity to find his spring toy and chase it!

I like attention from Themselves and tell them when it is time to play with me. And if I see them giving Yoshi attention, I will stop what I’m doing and encourage them to attend to me.

Basically, Greyce, things have gone well between us.

We Got Along Well Until . . .

We’ve been friends until about three weeks ago, when we went to the cat beauty parlour for the first time. I had some mats and Yoshi went for a summer ‘do’. No problem.

But obviously something was not right after we got home. Yoshi smelled different and I started to stalk and sniff him. As the evening progressed, he retreated to the closet and I cornered him for a growling and yowling contest. This continued until we were separated for the rest of the night.

As soon as we got together the next morning, Yoshi hissed at me and so I yowled and started to chase him. And what did we get for our trouble? Separation, again!

Our purrson has tried to re-introduce us but things are not getting any better. On the off chance that something about the process is troublesome, let me give you the details.

Our Separation Agreement

At present, Yoshi stays in the master bedroom (which he doesn’t seem to mind) and I get the run of the house – two stories with an open plan main floor and bedrooms upstairs. If it had been the other way around, I would cry incessantly. I hate being behind a closed door!

We each now have our own litter boxes, food dishes and water bowls. At night, one of us sleeps with Themselves and the other gets the run of the house; we alternate this daily. Feliway diffusers have been installed on both floors. And we get loads of attention from Themselves.

Trying To Get Back Together

We were kept separated until about a week ago, when I was allowed into Yoshi’s room. We stared at each other from across the room for a long time. Then we started a never-ending cycle: I’d approach Yoshi slowly, get too close for his comfort, and he’d growl and hiss; I’d retreat; and then we’d do it over and over again. Herself talked soothingly to us during the whole time and gave us treats when we were not hissing. It went pretty well until I tried to touch and then chase Yoshi. He got scared and hid.

We tried meeting in the bedroom every day for a few days. Then a really bad episode of chasing stressed Yoshi out more than ever before. Herself decided we needed a good long break from each other.

About three days later, we tried again but in a different venue. Yoshi has a favourite cat tree downstairs, so Themselves brought him down there and put him on it. We’d look at each other and sometimes I’d just walk away. Yoshi was a bit apprehensive but he didn’t hiss. Then we’d be given a treat. And we were separated for the night. We kept this up (a session a day) for several days. Themselves would separate us before things escalated.

These sessions continued. All went well (according to Themselves) even though the fur along both our spines was standing up. But when Yoshi tried to jump off the cat tree that set me off. There was lots of yowling and chasing. Not much problem for me but Yoshi was very afraid. Luckily he calmed down overnight.

Where We Are At, Now

We have tried and tried and it is NOT working, Greyce. Themselves are worried and have talked to friends who suggest that we just fight it out once and for all. And now they are away for about a week and so we are being kept separated all that time (with visits from a pet sitter).

Greyce, this NOT getting any better and we need help, FAST! Taro


Dear Taro, I’m right on the case, Taro. And I have a lot to say.

Allowing Cat Fights is a Terrible Idea

Anyone who tells you that cats whose relationship suddenly sours should just fight it out, is very ignorant about cats and their behaviour. We cats are not pack animals and once our bond has been ruptured it is difficult to repair - not like dogs. We can easily escalate the fighting and cause serious damage to each other and to any purrsons who attempt to intervene.

I'm sure these well-meaning advisors would think twice if they knew that what they recommend could result in the death of one of you and/or serious infections requiring I.V. antibiotics for at least one of the humans in the household. NOT a pretty picture. And you can tell them that from me!

Okay, enough of my rant. Let me cut to the heart of the matter.

What Went Wrong

Cat beauty parlour was a new experience for both of you and one in which you were both exposed to lots of different smells – from products and people. And since you depend on your fine sense of smell as a prime mode of communication, something was off. Chances are you were both at least a bit anxious at a strange place, even though you behaved well. And so you returned home, somewhat aroused (anxious) and smelling different.

Sounds like this bothered you more than Yoshi, for you initiated the stalking and sniffing cycle. Obviously he didn’t smell like your companion and you thought he was a stranger! (I wonder if the beautician used a different product on him so it made him smell different than you. This would be critical, since we cats identify our feline companions by the presence of a group scent on our bodies). So much for the start of the problem.

What You Have Done Right

You and your folks are on the right track – separation and gradual re-introduction. There are details that need to be worked on and refined and I will go into them.

But first I want to congratulate you on all the things your have done right:

Keeping separated overnight.

Staying separated when things were not working out between you. Good for you for having separate litter boxes, food and water so each of you would have access to these precious resources without bumping into the other cat.

Time-sharing the house (by switching who gets the bedroom at night). This enables both of you to continue to claim all of your home as your territory, by marking and re-marking important areas with scent. This also helps you let your companion know that each of you has the rights to the use of the full space. And it keeps you both safe.
 Well done! These are very important steps.

Separation Usually Works Quickly

Usually cats who have had an experience such as you have can get back together after an initial separation. Overnight usually does the trick. But in your case, there is another variable – the nature of your relationship.

Sometimes cats seem to get along well because one of them does the compromising to the other’s wishes. From what you have told me, you are the dominant cat and Yoshi tends to restrain himself based on your signals; those examples about play lead me to that conclusion. And you seem quite assertive at inserting yourself into situations when he is getting attention. While you got along peaceably, it’s obvious who the boss is and who defers to whom. And that I guess is the nature of your relationship – even though you’d look pretty companionable to the average human observer.

When you are stressed, you become more assertive and Yoshi, more afraid. Not the greatest combination under the circumstances.

Right now, he needs more confidence to stand up to you, and you need to learn to back off. I want to incorporate these observations into an action plan for the two of you, because you will have to learn that Yoshi has rights too and he needs to be able to stand up to you.

Your Action Plan

We are going to start over because you have been apart for awhile. And I’d rather start you out slow and build slowly and successfully, rather than get your fur rising and have another chase scene because that would set you back. Moving forward is where we aim.

Phase One – Behind Closed Doors

Since you will have been kept completely separated for several days while your folks are away, I suggest that you re-start WITHOUT physical contact, separated by the bedroom door.

Step One

Have Themselves move both your food bowls near the bedroom door. Keep your water dishes where they currently are because if given the choice, cats don’t drink where they eat anyway. Besides I understand that Yoshi likes to play with the water and your folks don’t need wet carpet.

 If you have specific feeding times, then Himself can stay with Yoshi and move the bowl with food on one side of the bedroom door; and Herself can stay with you and move your bowl to the other side of the door. Having your folks with you, should calm you both and help with Yoshi’s confidence.

 As you get comfortable with this arrangement, they can leave the bowls on or very near both sides of the doors for each of you to graze as needed. BUT this should only be the case when you are both comfortable with it.

 Once you successfully joint-feed for several days, we will proceed to the next step.

 Meanwhile continue the time-sharing arrangement. DO NOT do any other kinds of re-introduction sessions yet.

Step Two

Now you are ready for visual exposure to each other. In this case you will be able to get a glimpse of each other but not really physically contact one another.

Wedge the door open a crack. And I mean a crack – no more than 1 inch. You will need a really effective door stop for this. Whatever you use must not be able to be pushed away by you; otherwise you can invade the space at will. Not every stop is strong enough or thick enough. And some floorings make this more difficult. So this will depend on your situation. (Consider something like the Veritas Traveller’s Door Stop sold by Lee Valley Tools

Again the idea is to allow for some visual exposure and possibly even paw contact, without anything else.

If there is ANY possibility that the door could be forced open with great effort, then make sure your folks keep this door closed when they are asleep or out of the house.

Meanwhile continue the time-sharing arrangement.

Step Three

When you both get used to this new arrangement and can continue eating on either side of the door, wedge the opening by another inch (two inches maximum).

Get used to this and continue your eating routine. Once you can calmly do this and there is no evidence of frightened or aggressive body language, you are ready for the next step.

Meanwhile continue the time-sharing arrangement.

If You Cannot Wedge the Door

If you cannot suitably wedge the door, continue the joint feeding sessions (separated by the door) for a few more days and then proceed to Phase Two but only once you have both eaten at the same time, without incident, for several days in a row. Make sure there has been no evidence of frightened or aggressive body language during your viewing/eating sessions. This means that you are used to each other enough that you are ready for more.

Phase Two: Re-introduce Yourselves, Under Control

Your purrsons need to take more control over your re-introduction sessions. As it stands, they put you guys together but have no real means to keep you far enough apart that Yoshi can relax. And even worse, they cannot or do not seem to stop you from approaching and then scaring Yoshi. You definitely need to work on that.

Control is usually achieved by one of two means: leash and harness, or cat crates.

Control Through Leash and Harness

This would be ideal but I understand that you have never worn such an apparatus – and it does take some getting used to. The value of this is that it enables a human to help you maintain a safe distance from your cat companion, so that your companion feels safe and can relax in your presence. Ideally both of you would wear leash and harness – one of you under the control of Herself and one, Himself.

Now since we are backing up the whole process by some time before we even get to this stage, purrhaps your folks would consider trying to harness train you in the interim. Have a look at: for tips and ideas. (In your case, consider the leash and harness with buckles, rather than the figure-8 with pull-apart snap, because the former is less easy to break away from.) It takes patience but many cats get used to it.

Here is what you do:

Before you put on your leash and harness, make sure your folks relax by taking ten deep, slow breaths. No, I’m not suggesting they start yoga. But we cats can sense when folks are are uptight and that makes us uptight as well. If they are relaxed, it helps us relax as well.

Start out in your usual space – that area where Yoshi has his favourite cat tree - staying across the room from one another. Yoshi can be on his tree.

And over the course of repeated sessions (and as long as both are okay with it), you decrease the distance between you two at the rate of 6 inches per session. Six inches! Yes, trust me on this. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself and this is a big distance for us felines.

When you have had enough successful sessions that you are approaching swiping distance, decrease the space between you even more slowly. Your purrsons much watch each of you carefully for signs of distress. And to relax they must take deep breaths.

Consider a Bell. If you wear a collar, consider getting a bell for it so Yoshi (and your folks) can keep an ear out for you. Forewarned is forearmed! Or should I say, forepawed?

Control Through Crating

Okay, so you have never been harness trained and your folks are too stressed to deal with this. There is an alternative, using cat crates: Keeping one or both of you in cat crates while in the same room.

I understand that you each have a cat crate but are less than thrilled when you are in it. Well, sir, I think you will have to get used to it because I will suggest that you be put in the carrier for your re-introduction sessions.

Here is how it works:

Spray your carrier with one or two spritzes of Feliway a few minutes before you get in so the scent can do its work but not overwhelm you. Have your folks do that breathing relaxation.

Yoshi goes on his favourite cat tree (without a crate). You are brought into the room in a carrier and put at a great distance from Yoshi – start across the room from each other - and put your crate at ground level (which you prefurr). You won’t be able to get at him.

Maybe you will engage in a staring contest (or another aggressive behaviour). If so, ask your folks to use their wiles to distract you. If that doesn’t work, have them turn the carrier sideways so you cannot directly face Yoshi.

If you don’t settle down or show signs of great stress, the session is ended. Ditto re-Yoshi.

If you are fine, have a look at each other but can be distracted from a prolonged starting contest, or show no evidence of aggression, the session continues. Until 5 minutes is up. End of session. (In other words, the session ends at the first sign that one of you is distressed, or at this time limit – whichever comes first).

For every session that goes well, decrease the distance between your carrier and Yoshi by 6 inches. Yes, it is a slow process but it works.

At some point, Yoshi will become confident enough to approach the carrier. Again, watch for signs of distress of either party and act accordingly.

Why Crate Taro?

The idea is to get you both used to each other’s presence in a way that Yoshi feels safe. (In some situations, both cats are crated but I don’t thing this is necessary here.)

I suggest that you are crated because you are dominant and we need Yoshi to become more confident. Later on, Yoshi can do crate time and let you have the run of the room and even approach him.
 A lot of this will depend on your folk’s fortitude. They may prefurr to have the cat who makes the least fuss, crated. But they need to know why I recommend crating you.

IF they really, really can’t stand crating you or you put up such a fuss that you stress yourself out, then I guess Yoshi gets crated instead. (This is different from making your distaste known for the first few minutes and then settling down.) BUT when Yoshi gets crated, his crate needs to be put on a table or somewhere stable above the ground level, since he likes height).

If Yoshi is in the carrier, then no doubt you will head over to it sooner rather than later. At the first sign of distress, the session gets ended.

I would really prefurr that you try it with you crated, first, because there will be more control. But you and your folks are on-site and need to do what will work for all of you. I doubt that Yoshi will come bounding over to you at first; but I’ve no doubt that you’ll be at his crate sooner than I can blink, if you have your way.

(If this needs crating to go one for some time, some people buy (or borrow) a LARGE size dog crate so you can have a litter box in the back and a bit more room. There might even be room for a small, low stool on which to perch – if you are Yoshi. And a water dish would be helpful.)

When Will It Be Over?

With either method, the sign of complete success is when you can be close together and not show aggression and/or fear. In other words, when you are both comfortable with each other again. At that point, I would suggest that the controls can come off.

However, you still need supervision (and distraction, at first, when needed). And when you cannot be supervised, you need to be kept separated – for about a month longer. We don’t want any unfortunate experiences to cause a setback.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

Timing the Sessions

Start with short sessions.
I understand that at least in one of the sessions, you were together for over an hour! This is far too long at this stage. Start with five minutes. Change the session length in small bits (a minute at a time) as I have directed – increasing or decreasing as needed. This might seem to take forever, but it WILL work.

I repeat: Your first session is 5 minutes. It ends either at that time limit or at the first sign of distress/aggression from which one of you cannot be distracted. Whichever comes first.

Ideally, stop the session before things get out of hand or when the time is up – whichever comes first. If you show signs of aggression and cannot be distracted, the session needs to end NOW!

If this session goes well, the next one can be increased by 1 minute to 6 minutes total. If the session was too much for one of you, the next session is decreased by 1 minute – to 4 minute total. So every good session means the next one gets a small time increase.

For every session that goes poorly, the next one gets a small time decrease of 1 or 2 minutes. And is kept at that level for at least two sessions BEFORE increasing it by 1 minute again. Got it?

Once you are past the 15 minute mark, you can start make 3 minute increases at a time. And once past 30 minutes, you can increase it by 5 minutes at a time.

How Many Sessions in a Day?

Having a re-introduction session is hard work – on all of you. You need time to calm down between sessions. And your folks need time to work, pay bills and do laundry. So separate your sessions by at least an hour (preferably longer), so you all have time to relax in between.

Train Your Folks About Cat Body Language

Chances are your folks haven’t a clue about the subtle nature of cat communication. They probably miss out on important chances in ear position, pupil size or posture that indicate that something is amiss.

Check out my entry, The Pungent Scents of Comfort, Urine Marking #4 (make sure it IS #4) and scroll down to Body Language. There are diagrams and descriptions of what to look for. For example, continued staring is highly aggressive.

Click on the following links for further information.

Eventually your folks should get so good at predicting this that they can end the session in advance of hard feelings. And this is important because you both need a history of being together without incident. That will build a repertoire of positive experiences for you both.

Okay behaviors while you adapt to each other:
Puffing Up
Retreating to a higher surface
Leaving the room at high speed

Intervene if there is:

Pre-attack Yowling
Staring contests/Prolonged direct stares

When and How to Intervene

Okay, so your folks have passed Cat Communication 101. Now what?

So they see you are up to no good. Say you begin to get into the stalking position. They can try a firm ‘no’.

If you don’t respond by stopping, they can try throwing a favourite toy in a direction AWAY from Yoshi to see if you will go after that. And if you do, then they could try a fishing pole type toy (or string) to engage you in interactive play (see entry, Only On My Terms, for information on suitable toys and games). If distraction works, then this will be a method of choice.

If distraction does NOT work, they should try a time out – removing you bodily from the scene (without ANY attention, positive or negative) (e.g., behind a closed door or into a cat carrier) for five minutes. After ignoring you for five minutes, they can let you out (again with NO attention of any kind) and see what happens. If you start up again, they can either lengthen the time out or stop the session.

Have Fun!

You guys have been under a lot of stress. Make sure to have daily interactive play sessions with you folks so you can let off some steam. It will be great when you can get to the point that each of you can play with your purrson of choice, in the same room as your other feline companion. But that’s while off yet.

Taro, this is a LOT of information for you to digest. Make sure you read the whole thing carefully. Let me know if you have further questions about it. And do let me know what happens.

Purrs, Greyce

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